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The Weird Metamorphosis of Kevin Warwick, World's First Cyborg

A man is turning himself into a real-life cyborg – part man, part machine – and the British and European governments are underwriting the project.

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Models of a better me

And you thought sex change was weird.

Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at England's University of Reading, has taken the contemporary lust for identity-modification and "self-improvement" to an even more perilous height.

Born a man, he wants to be a machine.

"I was born human," he wrote in a recent essay, after his first operation and before the second.

"But this was an accident of fate, a condition merely of time and place. I believe it’s something we have the power to change."

With two computer "implants" already in his forearm, Warwick makes no secret of his futuristic vision: wires connected to nerve endings, mixed robotic and natural functions, artificially "enhanced" memory and human experience.

Under the knife

In 1998, he went under the knife to have a silicon chip transponder implanted in his arm.

Rudimentary technology as chips go, that first implant sends signals to a computer at the University of Reading, where he works, automatically opening doors and switching lights on and off depending on where he moves.

On March 14, a second operation went forward, when neurosurgeons attached a "microelectrode array" onto the median nerve in Warwick’s wrist.

From that point in his wrist, as described by the professor’s press release, "wires linked to the array have been tunnelled up Kevin's Arm, where they appear through a skin puncture, 15cm away."

The wires protruding from his arm can be attached to a "novel radio transmitter/receiver device which will be externally connected, its aim being to join Kevin's median nerve to a computer by means of a radio signal."

"Merely human"

Why? Ostensibly, research into man-machine linkage that may provide medical breakthroughs. But for Warwick this is most of all "Project Cyborg", a trip into his future of split identity, and beyond.

"There is no way I want to stay a mere human," Warwick says on his website’s FAQ.

His controversial research is funded by a list of corporations and, more controversially, by public funds: the British government and European Commission.

Warwick’s overall experiment – however technologically crude and ethically complicated it is – poses real questions about the manipulation of human consciousness.

Speechless

Suppose, someday, he succeeds in telepathically communicating with a computer. Well, then someone else can, too. What then? Can the two humans communicate telepathically with each other using the computer as intermediary? What sort of science non-fiction is this?

The self-described "cyborg" says that such a hook-up may one day enable humans to communicate more directly than ever before. "At present our method of communication – speech – is very slow, serial and error prone. The potential to communicate by means of thought signals alone is a very exciting one."

"Speech is an old fashioned, out-dated means of communication."

"It’s on it’s way out," he declares, snapping his mandibles back and forth alarmingly and manipulating his tongue and throat to create and emit a pattern of soundwaves: a spoken English sentence.

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